5 Tips for Designing a Business Surveillance System

7 Minute Read

Designing a surveillance system is a complex task for most businesses. If your business is smaller, this might seem like something that’s relatively straightforward to do yourself. But even at smaller scale, you’ll likely run into plenty of complicating factors.

Whether you’re a business owner or security leader or a systems integrator working with client businesses, consider these five tips. Each will help you to create a truly effective system that provides adequate protection without unnecessary bulk or operational complexity.

1. Know the Legal Limits and Requirements in Your State

Before starting any electronic security system design, be sure you understand the legal ramifications of doing so. Rules vary from state to state, though some things (like not surveilling dressing rooms or restroom or locker room interiors) are universal enough.

For example, the state of California prohibits recording (via video or audio) any person without their knowledge or consent. Be sure you know how this or similar statutes affect your security system implementation.

2. Consider How the System Will Be Used (Monitored vs. Unmonitored vs. Semi-Monitored)

Next, make sure it’s clear to anyone involved in the integrated security systems design process how the system will be used once it’s built.

For example, monitored systems are built to be actively monitored by a guard or team of security professionals. These systems benefit from certain more active devices, like tilt/pan/zoom cameras and other central security controls.

On the other hand, many business security systems are designed to passively record their surroundings. Staff or law enforcement access these systems only when there’s a problem. In these scenarios, pan/tilt/zoom cameras are a useless extra expense: there’s no one to do the panning, tilting, or zooming.

3. Account for Visibility at All Light Levels

One mistake that novice business owners designing their own security systems make is failing to account for how a camera will operate in any possible light level. System integrators and other security pros are trained to evaluate these settings and impacts and could be a good resource.

For example, an outdoor camera needs to record well in full sun and not produce washed-out footage. But it also must record well in dim lighting, possibly even in near or total darkness. And some indoor cameras need to function even in complete darkness due to loss of power.

Make sure that every camera you install is capable of appropriate visibility in every conceivable light level.

4. Identify Appropriate Distance, Field of View, Focus, and Resolution — for Every Camera

One of the most complex aspects of creating a truly comprehensive building security system design has to do with security camera coverage. You can place cameras all over your business and in conspicuous places, but the system will be nearly useless if you don’t first consider what exactly those cameras can (and can’t) see.

Four crucial aspects that determine security camera coverage are distance, field of view, focus, and resolution.


Does the camera need to capture clearly what’s happening five feet away, or 50? (Or both?) Cameras vary in terms of distance and clarity, so make sure to account for what level of clarity you need at particular distances. Not everything in every camera’s line of sight will be sufficiently in focus or in high enough detail to be legally useful, and it’s crucial to know what you’re getting by this metric.

Field of View

Next up is field of view, essentially how wide of a shot a particular camera is taking in. There are several set aspect ratios to consider. You might also consider fisheye and even 360-degree cameras if your space and budget permit.


Related to the previous two is focus. Good surveillance systems have broad levels of focus, but there are limitations here that system designers and business security leaders must keep in mind. A high-resolution camera trained on something close may well capture some goings-on in the background. But it might not capture those events with enough focus to be useful.


Last, resolution: resolution isn’t everything when it comes to security cameras (a 4K camera with a poor lens and bad lighting isn’t necessarily better than lower-res alternatives). Resolution certainly has value, though: all other factors being equal, higher resolution means more detail in your footage.

Conventional wisdom says the higher the resolution, the better — and this is generally true. The only counterpoint here is where that footage is going. Most systems have gone digital, recording to hard drives or straight to a server. 4K footage generally takes up four times the space as 1080p footage (which itself takes up four times the space of 720p, and so on).

Video size can eat up your storage space, but there’s another complication: bandwidth. 100 simultaneous 4K video uploads is, well, a lot for the typical business internet service plan.

How much space you need depends on how many cameras you have and how long you plan to keep recorded footage. As you go about developing a physical security system plan, be sure to account for storage and bandwidth needs.

Several of these factors are also going to be important if you want to utilize AI or capture analytics with your surveillance system. Again, your qualified system integrator and solution provider is in the best position to assist and has relationships with the leading manufacturers.

Use a Visual System Design Platform to Increase Buy-In

Last, using a visual system design platform is a great way to increase buy-in from anyone else involved in the decision-making process. Integrated building management system software can help you or your clients run and manage an existing system, but it doesn’t do much to help in the design of the system.

System Surveyor, on the other hand, is the perfect digital tool for designing systems and showing others what they’ll get for the investment. Using System Surveyor, you can drag and drop cameras onto a floor plan and dynamically show field of view, distance, and other elements that are otherwise hard to describe. Also, with System Surveyor’s Camera Advisor™, you’ll be able to easily identify which camera should be used for the needed resolution.

You’ll get a better sense of what you’re getting for your investment this way. You’ll also reduce the number of iterative fixes and adjustments necessary since you’ll see potential blind spots during the design phase, not after implementation.

To see what System Surveyor can do for your business’s surveillance system design, request a demo today.

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